In our multi-part interview with Half the Sky Movement: The Game’s developer, Frima Studios, we talk once again with Gabriel Lefebvre, Game Design Director, regarding his thoughts on the game design process.
HalfTheGame: Was the design process for this game particularly difficult?
Gabriel: Yes. Let’s be honest here: we’re making an adventure game for Facebook filled with serious narrative situations that we are trying to keep as close to reality as possible. That required careful, delicate design to find the right balance between fun and realism, between the nuances of the real world and the drama of a good fictional story, between a game that provides long-term engagement and one that provides meaningful engagement.
HTG: Were you influenced by the book and the TV series? What inspired you?
G: We were strongly influenced by the book (when we started production, the TV series was in its early stages of production). Our stories are inspired by those in the books. We carefully wrote the dialogs in a way that stays true to the spirit of what Sheryl and Nick are telling us: that it’s not black and white, that not every effort is fruitful, and that local social entrepreneurs are key players in making things change for the better.
HTG: Why did you decide to guide the user through quests?
G: HTS is very story-driven. There’s a light simulation aspect where you decide where to invest your time to improve an aspect of your life (education, economy, security or health). The bulk of the game, though, is an adventure that takes you all over the world. You meet all kinds of people, are faced with tough issues, and have to make hard choices. In the end, an adventure game was the perfect vehicle for HTS’s message. In our brainstorms, we explored other directions but it always came back to quests.
HTG: Where did the character Radhika come from?
G: We wanted the main character to be a female who actually lives in a place where all the issues from the book are her reality. It was important to make it clear that this game is not about the white savior from the West imposing his view on the Third World, but about a real person who faces these difficulties each day. The game is about change being sparked on a local scale, by the local population. That’s why we wanted a character with deep roots in her community.
HTG: What idea did you come up with that ended up not being selected?
G: We had all kinds of crazy ideas that didn’t fit with the concept. We also had story segments that ended up being cut because they strayed too far from our characters. For instance, in one quest, we had Radhika solve a murder mystery by visiting various suspects and unmasking the culprit. But in the end, it came off as too tacky and didn’t fit with Radhika’s personality.
HTG: What kind of game mechanics have you used in the Facebook game?
G: We have two main mechanics. One is a dynamic dialog system in which you have to make meaningful choices, and the other is a collapse-style mini-game that players use for resource gathering. There are a dozen more, but these two are the main ones. We also have unique mechanics that use the Facebook channels in a novel way. The Help Leaderboard is one of these. For every action you take in the game, your weekly rank in your friends’ leaderboard goes up. When special partnerships are active, reaching a certain point in the leaderboard triggers a donation from a sponsor to an NGO, just because you played.
HTG: What type of quests can we play in the game?
G: You could say there are two kinds of quests. The first involves the various issues from the book. In these mini-adventures you are presented with difficult situations in an action-oriented way. You don’t always end up helping, though. Sometimes things backfire, just like in real life. Players learn from their mistakes and have opportunities to try another approach.
The second type of quest focuses on Rashika’s personal life. You have to manage diverse economic and personal aspects of her life, from tending goats, to reading with her children, to collecting books, to trading wood for used cellphones. There are a lot of surprises, you’ll see.